What is a Certificate of Life?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Sometimes known as a certificate of existence or a proof of life, a certificate of life is document that is created by a government entity in order to provide evidence that an individual is currently living. This sort of document is often used by government agencies that provide ongoing benefits to citizens, providing evidence that the agency has verified that the individual receiving benefits is indeed still alive and has not passed away since the last investigation. Insurance companies are also likely to use an internal version of the certificate of life as part of a routine check on clients who receive pension and annuity payments.

Man climbing a rope
Man climbing a rope

The purpose of the certificate of life is to make sure the recipient of some type of benefit is still alive and is the one who is actually enjoying those benefits. By periodically checking on the current status of the beneficiary, government agencies and insurance companies make it more difficult for benefits intended for a specific individual to be appropriated by someone else as part of a scheme to commit fraud. When used for this particular purpose, agencies and insurance companies will employ several different methods to verify that the recipient is still alive, up to and including conducting a site visit to ensure the individual in question is living and is receiving his or her benefits in a timely manner.

Another common use of the certificate of life has to do with citizens living abroad. In this scenario, obtaining a letter of existence or certificate of life may be necessary if the individual wishes to secure insurance or conduct business while temporarily residing in that country. Obtaining the document normally involves working through the embassy of the individual’s native country to access birth records and prepare the documents to prove that the individual is indeed alive, and that the person currently residing abroad is the individual identified in the documents. This often involves obtaining copies of birth records, government-issued picture identifications and conducting personal interviews with the individual in question. Finally, verification of the passport the individual uses for travel would also be necessary before the certificate would be issued by the embassy.

With all applications, the purpose of the certification is to provide documented evidence that the individual named within the text is, in fact alive, and is able to conduct business using his or her legal name, receive benefits such as disbursements from a pension plan or some other type of ongoing financial support. In some cases, such as an individual living abroad, there may be a fee assessed in order to prepare and deliver a certificate of life that would be recognized as legal proof of existence. At other times, providing documentation of this type is provided as a free service to nationals who are living abroad and need the document in order to secure insurance or participate in some type of business arrangement.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@MrsPramm - I'm sure it happens all the time though. It's probably not usually a process of actually meeting the person to give them a life certificate, but of sorting out death records instead. In the modern age you can't just bury someone without filling out a lot of paperwork.


@Ana1234 - Well, DNA isn't the only form of identification they could use. There are fingerprints and things as well. More importantly there is the fact that people just don't want to break the law like that. It's a huge risk because impersonating someone else to the government would carry a big legal penalty.

I don't think the kinds of benefits that are usually being discussed are really worth that kind of deception and risk.


I find it so strange that this is something that modern governments need to do. I mean, I get it, because there have definitely been cases where people have continued receiving their dead relative's benefits for years after their deaths, so it makes sense that governments need to make sure everyone is still there and accounted for.

But having to prove that you are alive and that you are who you say you are just seems like such a strange thing to do. I mean, how could you ever really do it for sure without DNA evidence? If your daughter looks like you and knows your signature, then surely all she'd have to do is throw on a gray wig and you'd have a doppelganger that would pass the inspection of a random government agent.

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